The drive to Asheville was tricky.
You’ve probably already read about how we burnt our Toad’s brakes to a crisp, or at least the metallic equivalent thereof. That was dumb. I don’t really have anything to add to Tacco’s narrative, other than to say that she was absolutely correct to call for a Safety Standdown. I progressed rapidly through the stages of grief upon opening the car door in Asheville and seeing an engaged parking brake staring at me. First couldn’t believe I could have possibly done that, then got pissed at nothing in particular, then resignedly realized that no matter how many times we do this, there are STILL a ton of moving parts in this rig, and that there is zero room for complacency, as the stakes are far too high. All within about five minutes.
It was tricky in other ways, too, though. I once again allowed myself to be victimized by my phone’s mapping app, which analyzed the weekday late-afternoon traffic and found me a “better way” to our lakeside campground up in the hills to the south of town. It wasn’t better at all. It was residential, narrow, tortuously winding, and hilly. What’s more, the threatening clouds we had seen in the distance as we climbed out of South Carolina were now overhead and unleashing sheets of rain and wind. Tacco did not like it one bit. I didn’t either, but found it less disconcerting than I had found St. Augustine’s traffic-clogged narrow streets from a few days back. At least here I didn’t have to worry about merging, pedestrians, intersections, and dead ends. Insisting on telling her this while we were in the thick of it wasn’t an especially good strategy, however, and bordered on immature. It was in this state of quiet tension that we pulled at last into our wooded campsite and discovered that we had killed our Toad’s brakes.
Though we don’t enjoy them at the time, it has been good for us to manage these reckonings, these moments where some sort of conflict, generally exacerbated by external factors, builds to the point where we’re forced by our situation and unavoidable proximity to resolve it. Basically to practice being adults, spouses, and teammates. We vented our frustrations, and then, unburdened, calmly talked about the way forward. In this case it was a renewed attention to detail in our stopping / going procedures, and a heightened respect for any discomfort the other feels with our current underway situation. As with flying, the “hair rising on the back of the neck” feeling, no matter who experiences it, is often the first indication of an impending chain of negative events, and should always lead to increased focus and awareness.
So… Asheville. I love Asheville. I’ll say it right up front. It reminds me of a smaller and more laid back Portland, but up in the hills, with a tubing-friendly river running right through town. [Bonus: the river is called the French Broad]
There seems to be a great blend of Southern sensibility, outdoorsy mountain adventurousness, and granola in Asheville. If it were closer to a commutable airport I would have seriously considered putting it on the short list of living destinations. One of the prime heat-of-the-summer activities seems to be group floats of the French Broad, peppered by stops at one or several of the various breweries along the water with convenient tube and kayak docking. And there’s excellent mountain biking. So far so good!
It gets better though. As any respectable beer geek can tell you, Asheville is one of the Meccas, and there’s a food scene to match. Not only are there at least a dozen and a half local breweries, most of them focusing on farmhouse style / wild ales, which happen to be my favorites, but both Calfornia’s Sierra Nevada and Colorado’s New Belgium have opened up shop in or near Asheville as well. I say “shop,” but in reality these are megaplexes. Sierra Nevada’s in particular reminds me of another Asheville highlight, the Biltmore estate. The property sprawls over at least a hundred acres, and you enter via a gilded gate and along a hilly, winding road that’s lavishly landscaped. When you reach the building itself, it looks like you’re pulling up to a resort. And indeed, after passing through the large restaurant area (with the several times as large brewery section on your right), you emerge onto a multi-tiered patio and acres of grass and walk-through garden, peppered with tables, fire pits, chairs, benches, a stage for live music, a kids’ playground, bocce courts, and cornhole setups. It’s the type of place you could easily spend all afternoon and well into the night, and to top it off, the food happens to be outstanding.
As I previously mentioned, Asheville was our first Davista destination after we picked her up in Cincinnati, and the highlights of our visit were a trip to Sliding Rock, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, and the Sierra Nevada brewery thereafter. That day was such a hit, in fact, that we unanimously decided to re-create it this go-around.
Our accommodations this time were different, however, in that we opted to stay at a semi-remote campground near a lake outside of town rather than the in-town (but nice!) RV park in which we had camped previously. We actually never saw downtown Asheville this time. And that was actually just fine. Tacco touched on how she reached (and exceeded) peak granola last time. As much as I would’ve enjoyed watching her free-spirited self struggle to keep from yelling “get a job, hippie!!” again, we didn’t have much time, and wanted to explore more of the natural side of the city in the outskirts.
I did have to pop into town to get the fried brakes replaced of course, but fortunately that was only minimally inconvenient, and I was able to combine picking up the car with a quick stop at a local bottle shop in order to stock our fridge and cupboard with some can’t-find-elsewhere hoppy / funky goodness.
Here’s Sliding Rock.
We drove over a stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway to get there, which is always stunning. The only stretch of it I had driven previously was up in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, several (16ish?) years back when I was beginning my drive across country from DC. I knew there was virtually no chance this drive would exceed that one on any axis (it was in October, at the peak of Fall color, and I had the top down in my newly purchased Porsche Boxster), but still it’s difficult not to find the Blue Ridge breathtaking under any circumstance. I remembered from our last visit that the mountains in this area were flush with rhododendrons and had hoped that our coming a few weeks later this time would put them solidly in bloom. Not so, unfortunately – evidently the weather had only very recently turned warm, making them a bit late to show their color.
The kids had been pre-gaming their Sliding Rock exploits for quite some time, which made me happy. Last year only Keeper had actually slid down the rock solo, though Firebolt had come close and Woodsprite made one run on my lap, which she immediately regretted. This time, though, all three promised to slide in earnest. And I have to hand it to them, it was a gutsy move. Though a few weeks later in the year than the last visit, we were still significantly pre-season for such activities and that water was COLD, with no way to avoid a complete and mostly out-of-control immersion at the end of the slide.
I won’t say they all loved it and did it repeatedly (only Keeper and I did that, with his runs exceeding mine by about a factor of four), but they were all thrilled to have done it afterwards.
Sierra Nevada was almost as amazing as we remembered it, though there’s something to be said for the first time you drive onto the manicured property and say “wait… this is a brewery??” The desserts had been an unexpected high point last time as well, and this time they were quite good, but maybe not quite mind-blowing. On the other hand, we arrived earlier in the day and with warmer weather, which meant more time to enjoy the sprawling grounds. After “corn in the hole” (thanks for that, Woodsprite!) and dinner, Keeper and Firebolt gravitated to the bocce courts while Woodsprite headed for the sand pit and playground.
Tacco and I opted for some trip strategizing in two large, comfy chairs next to a fire pit. We hung out there until after sunset and headed back to our campsite by the lake. A solid day, by any measure.
The next morning I was able to take a little hike to the lake with Firebolt, where we taunted some geese in hopes of getting some YouTube worthy footage (no dice, these geese were pretty chill). It’s been somewhat of a challenge to carve out one-on-one time with the kids, so it always feels valuable when we do.
It’s nice to be back into some terrain again, too. Though the Low Country was gorgeous, we’ll always be mountain people, and even the relatively low, rolling Appalachians scratch that itch. Next up will be Great Smoky Mountain National Park, about which I’ve heard lots of superlatives. Fresh air and clean streams sound fantastic to me right about now.